PERFORMER: Galina Gorchakova, Sergei Alexashkin, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Nikolai Putilin, Gegam Grigorian, Larissa Diadkova; Kirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 442 796-2 DDD
This one-act fairy-tale opera, Tchaikovsky’s last, was written to share a bill with The Nutcracker. That it has fared less well in the repertory though, has more to do with length (at a little over ninety minutes, it’s short for a whole evening, long for a half) than quality. And given the impracticalities and expense of pairing opera with ballet, it is difficult to say what to pair it with in a double bill.
But whenever an opera needs vindicating, a new Kirov recording comes along to do the job impeccably. Each issue in this series seems better than the last, and this is no exception. The orchestra’s account of this score is finely detailed (especially the woodwind) and warmly atmospheric. There is not a weak link in the cast, some of whom, one senses, Gergiev is pushing to extremes they scarcely believed they could manage. And the effect is transportingly intense. Gorchakova is poignant and natural as the blind princess who finally gains sight. As her suitor, Grigorian proves that his is a tenor of rare beauty and fluidity. And of the rest, Putilin, who as Ibn-Hakia has some of the opera’s most glorious music, stands out; as do Diadkova and Hvorostovsky, although he does gulp for breath during his big number.